NAPLES — High school baseball season is in full swing in Collier County.
David Malen knows the game is supposed to be fun, but said he is worried about what he perceives as safety problems at one local high school.
Malen is concerned about the fencing around the bullpens at Naples High School. Specifically, he is worried that a line drive from one of the balls could catch a bullpen pitcher in the face.
He noticed what he considers a problem last season, watching games at Naples, where his son is a player.
“You can see that a line drive could catch a pitcher in the face,” he said. “Pitchers, when they are in the bullpen, aren’t paying any attention to the game. They are concentrating on warming up. They might not notice a ball coming at them.”
Malen said he also is concerned about home run balls going onto Golden Gate Parkway and hitting vehicles driving by.
He brought the concerns to the school and to the district, he said, but nothing has been done.
Malen said he’s frustrated.
“I don’t want to sit there and know I told them there was a problem and they don’t do anything about it,” he said. “You can’t put a price on these things. The game is supposed to be fun.”
Collier County School District officials said the safety of students is the No. 1 priority.
District officials had no information on players being injured due to low fences. The district acknowledged that there have been a couple of balls that have made it over the right field fence since 1991 but officials didn’t have any information as to whether any vehicles were struck.
Joe Kemper, coordinator of interscholastic activities for the district, said the district had been made aware of Malen’s complaint and was looking into it. He said there are no plans to make changes to the field based solely on Malen’s request.
“Having been an athletic director for several years, I can tell you that prior to the school year and prior to certain seasons, the maintenance department comes out and checks the fields,” he said. “They check the bleachers on each side of the field. They check the fences and gates to make sure they are in good working order. They make sure screens are installed.”
Kemper said even with safety checks, the district will not be able to foresee every contingency.
“You have to set up your field with the basic safety elements and fences so you protect the spectators and the athletes,” he said. “Nothing is foolproof.”
Kemper said when the district is made aware of a potential problem, it is evaluated and corrected as quickly as possible.
He said when the district built the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Administrative Center, for example, the sunlight created a situation that made it difficult for batters to see pitches coming at them.
The district corrected the problem by putting up a screen, so the students wouldn’t be in danger of being hit by a ball they didn’t see.
Kemper said the fences at all of the high schools are put up with the safety of the students in mind.
“We are not blowing this off,” he said. “We want to be prudent. We want to be safe, but we also have to be responsible. We could build a dome over all of our fields to be safe, but it is not cost-effective.”
Malen said a lawsuit from a student who had been hit by a ball wouldn’t be cost-effective for the district either.
“I don’t like this. This is just wrong,” he said. “Will it ever happen? Maybe not. But it definitely won’t happen if we do something about it.”